The argument that the UK is a bridge between the US and Europe no longer applies, according to leading UK Conservative MP Dominic Raab. Instead, he says, the UK has become a 'piggy in the middle' between the US and Europe, and its power will continue to erode as Europe federalises.
Dominic Raab entered the British Parliament in 2010 and is one of a number of younger MPs who have strengthened the ranks of the eurosceptic right wing of the party. He is a member of the Fresh Start Group, which today (16 January) published a manifesto, of which Raab authored the chapter on Justice and Home Affairs. He spoke to EURACTIV's Jeremy Fleming.
What are you hoping Cameron will say in his landmark speech this Friday?
We need to be quite realistic about political constraints he is under, both at home with the coalition, and with the changing context in Europe. But I think that there are two key elements: plans for renegotiating Britain’s position, and from my point of view I want a responsible approach, which means that we do not duck the issue adopting a candid but responsible attitude. And [secondly] how to deal with the gaping democratic chasm that has developed between what is going on with Britain’s relationship with Europe and the popular decision-making in this country: so the question of a referendum and democratic mandate will be key.
Today the Fresh Start Group will publish a manifesto, what will be its message?
I think that the key thing is that we will be setting out in reasonable terms the substantive things that the UK wants to change, from common fisheries to crime and policing. It obviously will have to deal with the very contentious and critical economic links through the customs union the free trade area. It will effectively set out a negotiating script as suggested by a large number of MPs on the Conservative benches. To set out a positive vision of what a new open relationship with the EU would look like. It will be a positive and not a negative blueprint.
The chapter of the manifesto you have written deals with justice and home affairs issues; what is your general approach?
The overarching position is that we would like to be good, strong operational partners in Europe. If you look in the rest of the world, whether it is our law enforcement with the Americans – which on the intelligence side is very strong – through to the Norwegian co-operation after the Anders Breivik terrorist attack, in those cases our cooperation does not mean the need to cede democratic control.
We do not cede democracy with those other partners, so why should we with the EU. This is effectively what is happening, because of the push towards a pan-EU criminal law harmonization, backed up by a European prosecutor, and determined and enforced by the Commission and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
Can you discuss one of the specific issues that you are seeking repatriation of?
We want to continue to engage, for example, with criminal records checks, that is practical cooperation. But why give up democratic control? The kinds of things we would want to pull out of are things like the Prüm regime [the Convention on the stepping up of cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism, through the use of data sharing] which covers all citizens.
I do not believe that kind of co-operation is necessary, and the EU has acknowledged that the scheme itself appears vulnerable.
It would involve the UK sharing data with Warsaw, Bucharest and Rome countries where we have no control over data sharing, fraud and huge concern about some of the police investigations and prosecutions that we have had with those countries.
There are areas – like the EU arrest warrant – where we want to retain these but with strengthened safeguards. Our message is the more Brussels opens itself up to flexible co-operation the more we are likely to want enhanced co-operation.
What of the issue of Bulgarian and Romanian rights to freedom of movement, which are set to become active in 2014?
Free movement arrangements need to be reviewed and transitional controls are important. We want stronger discretion in relation to this.
The Single Market, often one of the few liked aspects of the EU amongst sceptics, relies on judicial co-operation. Is there a danger of your being accused of cherry-picking?
The Single Market was originally about breaking down barriers, but it does not function properly, because of the CAP and the lack of level playing fields. Let us deal with the world as it is, the Fresh Start Group wants to encourage fewer trade barriers, but I do not think much of the regulation for the Single Market is really about growing trade. There is a real risk that the Single Market, which was introduced as a way of reducing barriers to trade, is now being used as a proxy, or a back-door way of introducing rules that are damaging free trade.
You have described a referendum in the UK as ‘a means of leverage’, how so?
I support the idea of a ‘referendum sandwich’. It would be useful if you took our Fresh Start negotiating positions, put those to a referendum and then – with the public backing we would get – that would strengthen our negotiating position. The risk with just setting out a wish list and then going off to Brussels is that there would be a question over how seriously you would be taken. And the point of having a referendum on the mandate is it would be clear that if we do not then get a substantive deal, putting that to the people in another referendum, that intransigence would risk pushing us out of the door.
German politician Gunther Krichbaum, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, last week warned David Cameron: "You cannot create a political future if you are blackmailing other states." Is there a danger your ‘referendum sandwich’ might be perceived as such?
The idea that asking the UK people what the nature of their relationship with such a fast- moving institution as the EU is blackmail – rather than a basic democratic requirement –shows frankly the Alice in Wonderland world that too many EU federalists live in. The EU project is fast in danger of becoming not just supported only by an elite, but bitterly opposed by those not asked about it. I was in the Netherlands when the constitution was opposed and one of the issues there was that of an elite without the consent of the people. This is not a peculiarly British concern.
Do you agree that europhiles and eurosceptics share the problem that neither have properly attempted to define the UK with a positive role in relation to Europe?
There is some truth in that. The europhiles have scaremongered rather than using empirical analysis, or they have sought to represent the position in a static stat, without looking to where the union was heading. The risk for us [eurosceptics] is that we know who we are against, but not what we are for.
If a result was the departure of the UK from Europe, how do you see the UK developing outside the EU in terms of alliances?
The real danger is the opposite: that staying in the EU the UK becomes a member of an insular bloc that is too inward-focused on its own problems, rather than looking out to the globalised world. The US gripe is that they want the UK to remain in the EU because we are their proxy. But as the EU becomes more federalist, the UK would inevitably lose its value as a bridge.
US criticism of euroscepticism is devastating is it not, since eurosceptics usually proffer an ‘Atlanticist’ alternative to the EU for the UK. It seems the US is not bothered about those ideas, doesn’t it?
It is not devastating if, as I say, the [US] analysis is flawed. The truth is that Europe is less important to the Americans than it has ever been. There is a realignment of geopolitics going on and that will happen whatever Britain does. The US does not need Europe as a bulwark against the Soviets. It is interested in common security but major bones of contention have developed into EU-US spats, such as over Iraq and Kyoto. Whatever Blairites say about the UK being a ‘bridge’ between the US and Europe, Britain has just ended up being ‘piggy in the middle’. I think the europhiles and eurosceptics would both agree that the US does not really understand what exactly is happening in the EU. The more federalist and centralised the EU becomes the more the UK’s role will be eroded.
The question is: does Britain need to be less regional and more global in outlook. Frankly a serious cost-base analysis has not been done, but there is a question of how we look out at the world when the Europe is less important and the rest of the world is in flux. It used to be said that the eurosceptics were the ‘little Englanders’ but that is a criticism being more thrown at the EU.
Bill Cash recently said “If [pro-EU Conservative politicians] Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke want to take us on over the argument, then let's meet them at Philippi,” whose side would you take if there were a fight in the party?
I do not believe in personalised politics, the Conservative party is a broad church, though I think Heseltine and Clarke represent a minority and dwindling view. But I do not want to stifle different views. The country wants to see a proper debate on this issue.
You are sometimes referred to in reports as a potential party leader, would you like to be prime minister?
I am a humble backbencher. I would be proud and honoured to get a chance to work in a position in government, but you are looking a bit too far ahead. My focus is on supporting David Cameron as Prime Minister and I hope he will take a robust position on Europe and lead us into the next election.